The Meeting Place produced by BOS, Benny Or Studio, is a virtual environment minted as an NFT that merges digital real estate with NFT art. Auction houses, museums, and galleries are dabbling in the creation, sales, and acquisitions of NFT art, in paralell digital real estate is quickly becoming a force to reckon with. In November, Metaverse Group, an NFT-based metaverse real estate company, bought a plot of ‘land’ on Decentraland for USD 2.43 million – more than doubling a previous record. Although these assets are based on technology that has been around for over a decade their existence on the blockchain, or in the metaverse, provides new opportunity for innovation.
As evidenced by The Meeting Place, it takes a village. BOS worked together with artist Cyril Lancelin and producer Cristian Andres with the support of M2 Studios, who translated design ideas into a working VR environment, and Jon Vio and Sarah Wassley who helmed animations and website design to create the digital environment that now lives on the blockchain. According to Or, community leaders Krista Kim and David Cash have also been promoting the project behind the scenes.
Currently, The Meeting Place is a public space that you can visit. So far, the creators have hosted interviews, tours, and family gatherings in the space, and will be hosting an exhibition with SuperRare exploring the future of Metaverse architecture. We sat down with Or to talk about how The Meeting Place, or TMP for short, has started to live a life of its own and how it is driving innovation in the tech space while centering on human interactions.
Anna Mikaela Ekstrand: First off, congratulations on finalizing this enormous project. How long did it take you, who was involved, and what drew you to the NFT space?
Benny Or: What excites me most about the NFT scene is the enthusiasm and culture of the community. It’s much more welcoming and open than the traditional art world, and I appreciate that a lot. I wake up every day in amazement at what life has become and how much has changed in the last few months. I had my first conversations with our VR partner, Spatial, in July, but the brunt of the work happened in the three months leading up to the drop. Beyond creating the place, we also had to market it. We have an entire team of people making this dream a reality. Or a virtual reality, I suppose.
AME: Why did you decide to launch The Meeting Place as a NFT as opposed to having it exist somewhere else, on the cloud for instance?
BO: Minting the environment as an NFT was a natural decision it was important for us to assign value to the work we do as creators, and blockchain technology allows us to protect ourselves as artists.
AME: You worked with Megan Noh from Pryor Cashman to iron out the legal framework for The Meeting Place. What were some challenges and unexpected issues that you had to tackle? What did you do, contract-wise, to anticipate or create a better digital future?
BO: We knew that our contract would be regarded as a case study in the future, so we worked hard to set a legal standard moving forward that put artists first. This asset combines technologies in a new way. It’s a 3D model sold as an NFT that has been optimized and hosted on a virtual reality platform. Because it was unchartered territory, the existing terms on the SuperRare site didn’t cover all use cases or technicalities that could come from the sale. In response, we worked with Meg to craft a separate buyer’s terms to protect myself and Cyril as artists while also providing more clarity and transparency to the future buyer. In it, we clarify what the buyer can do with the asset.
AME: I visited The Meeting Place during your launch party and was impressed, it’s beautiful, calming, and fun. An influencer in attendance said it felt like the 80’s! You are an environmental designer by training and have worked mainly with set design for musicians – Billie Eilish’s flying bed, wow. How did you come up with this place and how does it relate, negate, or differ from your previous projects IRL?
BO: A key lesson that I learned from production design is how to create an atmosphere, and I brought that experience to this project. Throughout the process, the word “joy” kept coming up. We wanted people to feel happy in the space because we knew that if we could accomplish that, we’ve created something that taps into the core of being human.But, the incredible design of the space is thanks to Cyril and his visual language of primitive geometries.
AME: Spatial.io has hosted The Meeting Place keeping it open to the public.
BO: Yes, we realized quickly that beyond the design of the space, what truly gives the place value is what happens within it. I spend a lot of time there, and it almost always leads to an inspiring conversation when a stranger appears. My vision for The Meeting Place would be for it to be known as a place of creative collaboration, a 21st-century Roman forum, if you will, where people go to share ideas and inspirations.
AME: In 2007, Second Life founder Philip Rosedale said: “The 3D web will rapidly be the dominant thing and everyone will have an avatar.” Where does The Meeting Place fit into the legacy of digital world-building for recreation and business, and what are doing differently?
BO: The idea of the Metaverse and virtual reality has been around for a long time, but the technology wasn’t quite where we needed it to be for mass adoption. Even today, when you ask people what they think the Metaverse is, they equate it to video games and clunky headsets. But that’s changing quickly, the hardware and software solutions have improved dramatically over the years, and today, you can seamlessly hop into a live environment on your phone or browser with just a few clicks. Add in social functionality, and we have a completely different experience. What was once a video game is now a virtual place where anyone could go and meet in real-time.
The Meeting Place acknowledges this moment in history and we are making a stance that quality virtual environments have value. We hope that it will not only show that digital artists anywhere can create and sell virtual real estate but that it will also be a case study for great digital environmental design.
AME: What is the Metaverse? Is Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook trying to hijack the term?
BO: As my partner puts it, the Metaverse is the internet all grown up. In our manifesto, we talk about how we’re three-dimensional creatures, engaging digitally in a two-dimensional way. The Metaverse is the next step forward. Instead of engaging with each other behind flat screens, we will go to a 3D space where we will read each other’s body language, customize our homes and avatars, and experience content in a whole new way. On top of that, augmented reality bridges the gap between our physical and digital worlds, making our virtual realities part of our everyday lives.
In terms of Facebook’s renaming to Meta, it shows how serious Mark Zuckerberg is about this trajectory. And though they have much to learn based on the company’s history with privacy, trust, and safety, they’re going to bring a lot of research and development to the table, and I think that’s a good thing. At the end of the day, Meta’s Metaverse is just one planet within a boundless universe of other online worlds. In contrast, TMP is one that is decentralized from big tech and created by artists for people.
AME: Who do you find is driving innovation in this space?
BO: Some of the most incredible teams driving innovation right now are the major collector-run platforms. Paolo Rodgriguez-Fraile’s Aorist, AOI’s Shoyu Metaverse platform, and Metakoven’s Metapurse Fund are all spotlighting some of the best digital artists out there right now.
AME: What’s next for you?
Beyond this being my genesis project as an artist, it is also my company, BOS (Benny Or Studio)’s launch project. I’m excited to work on creative projects that utilise my experience in experiential design and vision for art to push culture forward both digitally and physically. It’s an exciting time, and I’m meeting new collaborators every day.
The Meeting Place is currently for sale on SuperRare as the first fully social VR integrated digital environment NFT.
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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream. Send your inquiries, tips, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org. l igram l website l